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Your Rights Filing a Discrimination Claim - Montana

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Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion.  Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers Montana employment discrimination.  The purpose of Montana Human Rights Act is to protect workers in Montana from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about Montana employment law and how the law protects you.

1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Montana?

The Montana Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, religion, marital status, color, sex, physical or mental handicap, age, political belief, retaliation or national origin.

A person of any age may bring an age discrimination complaint under Montana law, unlike federal law which allows only persons 40 and older to bring an age discrimination claim.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Montana?

In Montana, a discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Human Rights Bureau (HRB) of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agency.

The Montana anti-discrimination statute covers employers of any size. Therefore, if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, you will only be covered under state law, and should file with the HRB. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you will be able to initiate a claim under both federal and state law by filing with the HRB.

To file a claim with the HRB, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the HRB can be found at the Human Rights Bureau Website.

Human Rights Bureau 
1625 11th Avenue 
Second Floor 
Helena, MT 59601 
Phone: (406) 444-6543
Fax: (406) 444-4140
Mailing Address:
Human Rights Bureau
PO Box 1728
Helena, MT 59624

EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online.  This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period.  Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge.  All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System.  If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use.  The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC's state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.

 3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the HRB to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your state claim, you must file with the HRB within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. This deadline is extended to 300 days if you have followed a written grievance procedure established by a collective bargaining agreement, contract, or written rule or policy to resolve the dispute. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the HRB (who will refer your claim to the EEOC) within 300 daysof the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.

4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?

When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:

  • Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
  • Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
  • Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction

If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents.  Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”

How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).

5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Montana?

If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the HRB or EEOC, and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first having the HRB referring your claim to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your claim. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy.

There is no “private right of action” under Montana law for discrimination claims, which means that you cannot file a lawsuit directly in court under Montana law. You are allowed to appeal the determination of your case in court only after following the HRB's process to its conclusion or if the HRB does not follow established deadlines.

Due to the speed and low cost of the administrative process, many Montana attorneys choose to pursue employment discrimination cases before the HRB, rather than filing in federal court. In the Montana administrative process, the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages for a discrimination claim are not limited or capped as they are under federal law, although they generally tend to be lower than the amount typically awarded in court. However, most discrimination lawsuits can also be filed in federal court using federal law. A case filed in state court using federal law may be “removed” to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.

The EEOC must first issue the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.)

A lawsuit based upon your state discrimination claim can be brought only after appealing the HRB's determination of your case.

These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.” If you have received one of these agency notice, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.